Intel may bring quad-cores to Vegas

A CES arrival would be fitting for so-called mainstream quad-core chips in several ways.

I’ve been reading that Intel is expected to announce quad-core processors for mainstream desktop PCs early in 2007. Press reports are saying the announcement will come during the Consumer Electronics Show, which starts on January 8.

As far as I know, Intel has only said officially that the chips would arrive sometime during the first half of 2007. But a CES arrival would be fitting for so-called mainstream quad-core chips in several ways. First among them are the chips’ capabilities, which are best-suited for multi-threaded applications or at least multi-tasking PC enthusiasts. CES is usually bursting with both. In terms of digital content creation, CES plays host to a number of such tools, ranging from digital video recorders to video editing software. I’m not so sure that your every-day digital camera is going to highly tax a quad-core chip. But quad-core will make encoding your latest video, while playing Doom bearable.

A CES debut would also cap a remarkable 12 months for Intel. Say what you will about its methods for generating quad core chips—something I have promised to get into in another post—Intel has come a long way on performance since January 2006, when it launched the Pentium D 900 series and rolled out the Core Duo. Intel hasn’t given out numbers yet for mainstream quad-core power consumption. But expect the quad-core chips to fit into roughly the same power envelope as its quad-core Core Extreme QX6700. That’s about 120-watts. It's quite a lot by Core 2 Duo or Athlon 64 X2 standards, but in-line with the dual-core Pentium D.

The chipmaker will deliver the new processors with its usual fanfare. No doubt it will bill them as the best-yet for high-performing desktops running multi-threaded applications. Several very specific benchmark tests will bear that out. But as with Intel’s Core Extreme QX6700, the mainstream quad-core chips may not show huge improvement for everyday applications. Some other reports I have read have said that Intel’s expectations for quad-core shipments are fairly small—something less than 10 percent of 2007 desktop processor shipments. Whether official Intel numbers or not, the relatively small uptake on desktop quad core feels right to me given that the chips will be relatively expensive and will be most effective for multi-threaded applications or multitasking PC users.

There just aren’t huge numbers of either out there right now. Although with multi-cores to work with, developers are beginning the work to get threaded. What’s for sure is for most computer users, including those of us who spend more time than we’d like to admit in Microsoft Office, is that quad-core chips will have a definite affect. Take processor pricing, for one. The arrival of quads will inevitably push down the prices of Intel’s Core 2 Duo chips, making those dual-core processors the centerpiece of relatively inexpensive desktops in mid-to-late 2007. The affect? A noticeable increase in PC usability, judging by my own experiences. My current system, a Core 2 Duo-based Lenovo ThinkPad, is simpler to use than my previous, single-core Pentium M ThinkPad. I can set one program running and swap into another without a hitch—an affect any dual-core chip, regardless of who made can offer that, by the way—and that’s something that makes my day a little easier.